The Origins Of Tea: Emperor Shennong

In Hubei Province, China, there is a unique forestry district and town known as Shenongjia. Laying within the evergreen forests, in the eastern and highest section of the Daba Mountains, this eco-region has an abundance of fresh air, spectacular scenery and a history that is impressive to say the least. It is here that rumours abound of the existence of Yeti's living within the mountains. It is also here that the famous "Emperor Shennong" (whom the town was named after) lived and carried out his work. Shennong was a legendary ruler of China and a cultural hero who lived some 5000 years ago. Traditionally given credit for such inventions as the hoe, plough and axe, Shennong is most famous for his experiments, mixing and consuming different herbs and  plants found within the forest, in an attempt to find out their medicinal qualities. He always experimented  on himself and his findings benefited many people. This is however, believed to be his eventual downfall, consuming one toxic substance too many and finally inadvertently killing himself. Before this eventually happened though, Shennong had identified hundreds of medicinal and poisonous plants and herbs, which were crucial to the development of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

So where does tea fit in to this picture? Well tea acts as an antidote to more than 70 poisonous herbs, and it was Shennong whom is credited with the discovery of tea in 2737 BCE, when a leaf of a nearby shrub fell into the water that he was boiling. It was tea that Shennong used to drink as an antidote to any toxic herbs and plants he consumed whilst experimenting.

Types Of Tea

Chinese TeaThe Main Types Of Chinese Tea 

  • White

  • Green

  • Black

  • Oolong

  • Post Fermented , Pu - Erh

All of these forms of tea come from varieties of the Camellia sinensis plant.

Outside of these main categories, there are also many types of "Flower or Scented Tea's".

  • Jasmine

  • Magnolia

  • Rose

  • Lychee

  • Chrysanthemum

The most popular of the Chinese tea's is of course the green variety, whilst for flower tea it is Jasmine that sits on top of the pedestal.

Tang Dynasty Tea Poem

The first cup kisses away my thirst,
and my loneliness is quelled by the second.
The third gives insight worthy of ancient scrolls,
and the fourth exiles my troubles.
My body becomes lighter with the fifth,
and the sixth sends word from immortals.
But the seventh—oh the seventh cup—
if I drink you, a wind will hurry my wings
toward the sacred island.

 Tang Dynasty poem -Lu Tong - hermit  (795 - 835 A.D.) transcribed by Christopher Nelson

Catechins And Why They Are Good For Us

Tea FieldsCredit: Photo Credit: <a href="">FullofTravel</a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>We all know that tea is beneficial for our health through it's antioxidant qualities. Of all of the different types available to us, green tea is thought to have the most health benefits. Chinese Traditional Medicine believes that it can improve blood flow, regulate cholesterol and high blood pressure, kill bacteria in the mouth and intestines, lower blood sugar levels and that it also holds anti viral properties. There are also studies that believe to have found that drinking green tea, can reduce the risk of several different cancers - these include skin, breast, lung, colon, esophageal, and bladder cancer.

It works by halting oxidative damage to our cells. Green tea is the best source of catechins, which belong to the chemical family of flavonoids. Catechins not only repair damage to our cells but also seem to have these disease fighting properties within them.

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What About The Other Tea's?

Oolong TeaCredit: Photo Credit: <a href=""></a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>Whilst the green variety is thought to hold the highest amount of catechins - Oolong, White, Pu-Erh and Black Tea, all have some medicinal type qualities which may also help to overcome many different health problems.

  • Oolong  - Full of antioxidants,  promotes weight loss, improves heart health, aids in skin conditions, helps with diabetes and stress relief.

  • Pu-Erh - Reduces cholesterol, aids digestion and fat breakdown, has a high level of vitamin C, promotes weight loss, invigorates the spleen and reduces heat in the body.

  • White - High source of Vitamin A, helps dry eye problems, helps control rheumatoid arthritis and reduce radiation levels.

  • Black  - Reduces cholesterol, is high in fluoride (good for our teeth), promotes bone health and is good for blood circulation.

Flower Tea

Flower TeaCredit: Photo Credit: <a href="">schatz</a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>Flower brews smell and taste amazing but, do they also hold health benefits? Unlike other tea's, flower tea holds claims to being caffeine free. Coming from natural flowers, they are also high in flavonoids and vitamins meaning that yes they do also hold health benefits.

Super Green

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Making A Good Green Brew

There is often a battle between tea and coffee drinkers about which of these two beverages contains the most caffeine. Green tea is known to have a high caffeine content, but with green tea, using the correct tea making process, actually eliminates much of the caffeine from your brew.

Chinese tea making is like an art form and is a fairly complicated process, but there is a quick and easy way to make a good cup of tea.

  • Step 1 - Take 3 reasonable pinches of green tea and place them in your cup. It is a good idea to drink your green tea in a clay cup and only use this cup for this purpose. Never drink other beverages from your tea-cup they can alter the taste of your tea.

  • Step 2 - Add a small amount of boiled water and swirl it around in the bottom of your cup.

  • Step 3 - Tip the water carefully out of your cup, taking care not to tip out your tea leaves. You have now successfully removed much of the caffeine and cleaned out and dust and particles that may have gathered in the drying and packaging process.

  • Step 4 - Fill your cup with fresh boiled water and enjoy your brew.

  • Step 5 - Keep re-filling your cup with boiled water. The first cup of green tea made may taste fairly strong, however, this same cup can be refreshed with boiled water up to 4 times and still retain its goodness and flavour, although the taste will slowly start to dilute in strength.

For the full Chinese traditional tea making ceremony see the video below.

The Traditional Art Of Chinese Tea Making

Only In China

Just a short footnote that I feel is worth mentioning.  The green tea in Australia tastes quite disgusting. It wasn't until I moved to China that I had any idea that it could taste so wonderful. Seeing as most of China's tea is not exported to the rest of the world, but drunk entirely in this country, you may need to haunt authentic Chinatown areas or shops to hunt down a good quality product.

After all that... In amongst all these wonderful, health beneficial, aroma filled tea's that I'm surrounded by here in China... what is my favourite? It's actually "Milky Pearl Tea", also otherwise known as "Bubble Milk Tea",  which has absolutely no health benefits whatsoever, but is filled with tasty chewy tapioca balls and is a whole meal in a milky delicious cup of joy!

“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?" - Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog


Reference : For the quick cup of good green tea  - My Chinese friends.

Chinese Tea Set

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Shennongjia, China: Where Tea Was Founded